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IAPA concerned over possible regulation of newsprint

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami, August 25, 2010 - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) criticized a decision by Argentine President Cristina Kirchner to send a bill to Congress that would make the production, distribution and sale of newsprint a matter of "public interest," calling the action "unconstitutional" and an attempt to "control the media."

In a nationwide broadcast Tuesday night, Kirchner delivered the contents of a report, titled "Papel Prensa: The Truth", about the paper manufacturer that is owned by the government along with the newspapers Clarín and La Nación. In it she accused the privately-owned newspapers of plotting with the military dictatorship to take over the factory in 1976.

Both newspapers denied the charges and provided details from members of the Gravier family, which owned the plant at the time, stating that they were not pressured to sell the factory at a loss and that the sale was made with their full consent, freely and under no duress, before they were jailed by the regime for reasons unconnected to Papel Prensa.

IAPA President Alejandro Aguirre declared, "Beyond the national controversy over this, what surprises us is that the government has gotten to this point - making it clear that it intends to control the news media by regulating the production and distribution of newsprint, a basic material for the newspaper industry which is not in short supply nor presents supply problems, and therefore doesn't require any special regulation."

Referring to the views of Argentine constitutional lawyer Gregorio Badeni, Aguirre said, "It is absurd that the government is going against the very Constitution whose Article 32 states expressly that 'the Federal Congress shall not pass laws that restrict freedom of the press or place it under federal jurisdiction,' meaning there can be no special laws regulating the press."

Aguirre, deputy director of the Miami, Florida, Spanish-language newspaper Diario Las Américas, added, "It is always dangerous to invoke the concept of 'public interest' because it could end up in laws to expropriate and/or regulate press activity," bringing into play the real possibility of an assault on the media and control over freedom of the press through the supply of its materials.

In Tuesday night's announcement made before officials, legislators, businessmen, actors and other guests at the government's headquarters, the Casa Rosada, Kirchner stated that Congress should pass a bill declaring wood pulp and its distribution and commercialization to be in the public's interest and setting up a joint congressional committee to monitor Papal Prensa's board meetings in order to prevent "deceptive tactics and business practices." She also stated that the government's findings of wrongdoing in the ownership of Papel Prensa, contained in the report's hundreds of pages, would be turned over to the courts.

Aguirre noted that the courts are "the appropriate institutions to resolve this conflict, and we regret that this matter has been raised to the level of a national public scandal." The IAPA, he said, has always been a sounding board for arguments among journalists, representatives and publishers over Papel Prensa, along with members of the Argentine newspaper associations ADEPA and ADIRA, but only over matters concerning the price of newsprint, import duties and complicity between privately-owned companies and the government. "We have had meetings where whole days were spent on Papel Prensa issues, but no one has ever cast doubt on the legitimacy of its purchase and ownership."

Robert Rivard, chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, stressed that "the sensitivity of this Papel Prensa issue was brought out at our membership meeting in Aruba in March," adding that on that occasion the IAPA adopted a resolution that denounced "the increased government action against Papel Prensa" and called on government leaders "to ensure that the open-trade policy for newsprint which has existed in Argentina for many years is maintained because these supplies, vital for the production of newspapers, must never be regarded as a tool to put pressure on the free practice of journalism."

Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas, said that in regard to Argentine press freedom, the IAPA focuses on serious problems such as obstacles to access to official information, discrimination and actions against media and journalists, the use of placement of official advertising to reward or punish media, the co-opting of private media through companies supporting the government, and abuse and biased use of public media to further the government's message - all facts contained in recent IAPA resolutions delivered to administration officials.

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